While there may be psychological differences between liberals and conservatives, don’t expect Paul B. Farrell’s commentary in the Wall Street Journal to provide any worthwhile insight. To help enlighten his readers, Mr. Farrell points to the following examples of new behavioral research which he believes will increase “our understanding of the “differences” between conservative and liberal thinking and their impact on your investing strategies.” Farrell, Market Watch Wall Street Journal (August 28, 2012). The behavioral studies the article references are pretty obviously flawed. Rather than shed light on the cause of our political differences they create fraudulent stereotypes that have little resemblance to reality.
Honestly, it is hard to image anyone taking this stuff seriously.
According to Farrell, “A study by psychologist Michael Dodd and political scientist John Hibbing at the University of Nebraska ‘found that when viewing a collage of photographs, conservatives’ eyes unconsciously lingered 15% longer on repellent images, such as car wrecks and excrement — suggesting that conservatives are more attuned than liberals to assessing potential threats,’ which might also be why they bet on the NRA and Pentagon.
Controlling or curious? In a study of the contents in the dorm rooms of 76 college students, researchers found ‘conservatives possessed more cleaning and organizational items, such as ironing boards and calendars, confirmation that they are orderly and self-disciplined. Liberals owned more books and travel-related memorabilia, which conforms with previous research suggesting that they are open and novelty-seeking.'” –Farrell, Market Watch Wall Street Journal (August 28, 2012).
Every member of my immediate family is conservative and, none of them would be inclined to linger on repellent images. I think most humans are attuned to assessing potential threats. The difference between us lies in how we see and prioritize threats. Conflict generally arises because we are not always in agreement as to what constitutes the bigger threat. For example, progressives see a lack of socialized medicine as a perilous situation while conservatives see government involvement in health insurance as threat to quality healthcare.
As for the dorm room study, only an ill-informed researcher would consider the contents of a teenager’s room a reliable guide to the psychological differences between adults. College students have yet to experience the world. Having spent the first part of their life under the influence of parents the college experience for most kids is about test driving new ideas. At this point, opinions are not etched in stone and since most dorm room possessions are purchased by parents, the only thing an ironing board proves is that that someone’s mother objects to the rumpled look.